The Washington Redskins filed a lawsuit on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Virginia, contesting a federal decision to cancel the team’s trademark registration.
On June 18, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled in favor of five Native Americans who said that the team’s name and logo were offensive. The three-member appeals board based their two-to-one ruling on several factors: dictionaries have defined the term as offensive for decades; the National Congress of American Indians resolved in 1993 that the label was racist; and Native Americans’ testimony has maintained that “redskins” was a slur tantamount to the N-Word. Federal law bans any trademark that “may disparage” individuals or groups.
The June ruling came a month after 50 U.S. senators signed an open letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking the league to change the team’s name.
But despite mounting pressure to change, the Redskins are still standing firm. Team ownership has argued that the name celebrates Native Americans. On Monday, the team premiered a video in which a handful of Native Americans explained why the name wasn’t offensive.
“We believe that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ignored both federal case law and the weight of the evidence, and we look forward to having a federal court review this obviously flawed decision,” Bob Raskopf, trademark attorney for the Washington Redskins, said in a statement released by the team Thursday.
By choosing to sue the five Native Americans who won the June case in federal district court in Alexandria, Virginia, the Redskins now have the opportunity to present new evidence and appeal the case if they lose. In a Washington, D.C. court, the team would have been limited to using old depositions and documents.
Redskins owner Daniel Synder has sworn to never change the name and gone as far as to call it a “badge of honor.” During the appeals process, the team can continue selling merchandise with the name and logo. The team will lose the logo if the Redskins exhaust the appeals process, but even then they still might be able to sell merchandise by leaning on state trademark laws.
But Native American activists say they will continue to fight for however long it takes. “This effort is doomed to fail, but if they want to prolong this litigation which has already gone on for 22 years, I guess they have that prerogative,” Amanda Blackhouse, one of the five Native Americans being sued by the team, said in a statement. “We know that time is on our side for a change in the team’s name, and we are confident we will win once again at this stage of the litigation.”
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